iPhone 4S

The iPad, aside from its other original features, was powered by Apple’s own proprietary chip, the A4. The iPad 2 by the A5. Apple was able to take more and more control over the implementation of every detail, integrating their own chips, radios and antennae in new ways that allowed for increased reliability, fluency, speed and – crucially – battery life. Indeed, the energy efficiency of the iPad remains one of its most astonishing features.

This week history repeats itself: a “new” iPhone which has the same form-factor as its predecessor but with an “S” added, again, for speed. Many might express similar disappointment, but as was the case with the 3GS – there also arrives a new operating system, iOS 5.0, which will work on previous models (but not the 3G or iPhone 1 I believe).

iOS 5.0 allows Over The Air updating and iTunes syncing, gives (AT LAST!!) a glossary so that we can make up our own text abbreviations and correct bad auto-correct habits (if ever I type “tou” it now automatically becomes “you”), offers a vast, customisable range of notification options, including a draw-down curtain familiar to Android users. iOS 5 also integrates Twitter globally so that I can go to a website, for example, and see that “Tweet” has been added to the list of sharing options available.

You will see from my screenshot that one can create a reading list too from Safari. There’s tabbed browsing also. And iMessaging, which means you can “text” from an iPod touch or iPad.

Most noticeable is the all-new iCloud, which replaces the never wildly successful MobileMe. iCloud is free and allows users to store their data, photos, apps, music and whole iPhone identity, look, feel and functionality “up there” in that happy space we call the cloud. In fact this cloud is, I believe, a mountainside in North Carolina. MobileMe users can transfer their identities seamlessly and easily, others simply create a new account for free by following simple instructions. There is an option to enable Photostream, which keeps every picture you take for ever. Be warned. You cannot delete a picture once it is in Photostream. There may well be blushes within families who share devices and discover that a photo they would rather not be seen is permanently on view, but they’ll have to learn the hard way. iOS 5 will make your existing iPhone so like a new one that you might even forget the iPhone 4S …

4S is the first iPhone with a proprietary dual core A5 chip, Apple is claiming it can process graphics up to seven times faster. Other increases in performance will strengthen the iPhone’s position in the handheld gaming market. For users like me it is apparent that the new 8MP front-facing camera, with its five-element lens, facial recognition and image stabilisation is fabulously impressive, as are increased speeds in data browsing and general app loading in everyday use.

Apple’s new cash richness also allowed them to buy a little third-party app called Siri, which billed itself as a personal assistant. I remember writing a joshing note to Jo, my PA, in February last year when Siri came out. “Hm … Jo, Siri? Siri, Jo? … Hard to tell …” And then Siri seemed to disappear. Little did we know that Apple had bought this (originally DARPA developed) technology and was due to bake it into its new phone.

Siri is the USP of the 4S, it is essentially Voice Control that really works. You talk to it, it talks back. You can ask it questions in natural English: “what is 436 times 734?” and you get an answer neatly displayed on what looks like old-fashioned punched computer paper. Wolfram Alpha is used as the database, and its elegance suits the experience perfectly.

Here are three pictures that show my experience when I asked Siri “What is the capital of Finland?” You can scroll down the final one and see a map and other details. It’s fast and very very impressive. Even better, it senses when you bring your device to your ear so you can talk to it as if you’re on the phone to someone, rather than having to endure the embarrassment of yelling at it at arms length. So good is the voice recognition that it is now built into all apps that use a keyboard. For the first time I’ve found that I can happily and accurately dictate texts and emails. Dragon Dictate are going to be very sore about it, but I have no doubt they will collude with others to bring a similar service to Android and Windows 7 phones as soon as they can. For this really works. For the moment local searches are only available for the US, but that will soon change, one assumes.

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This blog was posted in Guardian column and Techblog

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